Can We Stop the Changes in Our Skin Tone as We Age?

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Like many women who are middle-age, I am bombarded by commercials about cosmetic treatments that will help firm skin and stop sagging. And as I enter perimenopause, I’ve noticed an increasing dryness in my skin, especially my face. So is it possible to slow the ravages of time? The answer – yes and no.

    First of all, let’s focus on the skin. In “The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause,” Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge described the skin as being made up of an outermost layer (the epidermis) and the inner layer (the dermis).  The dermis is composed of two tissues, collagen and elastin, which weave together to provide strength, support and flexibility. “When we are young, the skin is stretchy and firm, like a new skirt that fits snuggly around the body, accenting the curves. As we age, the body begins to produce less collagen and elastin. The effect is like the elastic in that new skirt giving a little. It still fits, but it doesn’t have the perfectly tailored look anymore, becoming prone to looseness in inconvenient places.”

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    So how can you slow this aging? Seaman and Eldridge recommend staying out of the sun, applying an SPF 15 sunscreen, using moisturizing face creams, and stopping smoking.

    Diet also can make a difference. In interviewing experts for a article entitled, “Japanese Women Don’t Get Wrinkles,” Genevieve Monsma focused on Japanese women because their skin ages particularly well.  Besides staying out of the sun, Monsma reported that the Japanese diet is a critical component of skin care. This type of diet is made up of small nutritious dishes incorporating fish, soy/tofu, rice, vegetables and fruit, and green tea; Japanese women avoid sugar, which triggers inflammation and can break down collagen.

    Unfortunately, some sagging is a natural part of the aging process and happens in places that you have little control over – your bones. National Public Radio recently did a story on the facial sagging that comes with age. Dr. Howard Langstein, a plastic surgeon at the University of Rochester, and Dr. Robert Shaw, a medical resident, collected three-dimension CT scans of 60 adult skulls. Their research, which focused on the underlying bone structure, found that facial bones shift and wither with time.

    Langstein told NPR, "We saw changes around the eye, and then in the cheek area and in the jaw. And if you think about it, it kind of makes sense. When people age, the eyes appear hollow, deep-set. And, in fact, that's what we found. The cheek bones right beneath the eye socket descend somewhat and come back in. As a result, they don't give as much support to the lower eyelid."

    David Hunt, the physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, also was interviewed for the NPR story. Hunt explained that bone is alive and constantly changing throughout life, to the point that after approximately 12 years, each person has a new skeleton. The texture of bone by the time we reach middle age is rougher; also, eye sockets sink and the jaw recedes. No matter how much exercise and milk you incorporate into your diet, you’re going to have some bone loss in your face due to aging.

  • The moral of this story – focus on the lifestyle choices that you can control, but don’t obsessively worry about the sagging. It turns out that these changes are a natural part of life.

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Published On: April 21, 2010